Egypt criticised for arrest of Christians
The Institute on Religion and Public Policy has expressed "distress" at the arrest of at least 22 Egyptian Christians over the last week, many of them converts from Islam to Christianity, in a crackdown on apostates and those who support them.
ìI am very bothered by these recent actions on the part of the Egyptian government, particularly because of two tremendously positive steps taken by both political leaders and religious leaders in Egypt,î Stated Institute President Joseph K. Grieboski.
ìJust last month, a high-level delegation of Egyptian parliamentarians signed the Declaration of the Interparliamentary Conference on Human Rights and Religious Freedom ñ which took place in Brussels."
"The Declaration stated, ëEveryone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief. Everyone has the freedom alone or in community with others and without any outside interference to express his/her religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance, within the limitations prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals or the fundamental rights or freedoms of others; Nobody shall be persecuted or denied his/her rights because of his/her religious beliefs. No discrimination or privileges based on affiliation or rejection of affiliation to a religion are acceptable.î
ìOnly days after the conclusion of the Interparliamentary Conference, Dr. Mahmoud Hamdy Zaqzuq, Special representative of the President of the Arab Republic of Egypt and Minister of Awqaf of the Arab Republic of Egypt, and Grand Imam Dr. Mohammad Seid Tantawi of Al-Azhar in Cairo, participated in the Congress of World and Traditional Religions in Astana, Kazakhstan,î continued Mr. Grieboski.
ìAt this event, the participants signed a concluding declaration which affirmed, among other things, ëthe right of each human person to freely be convinced, choose, express, and practice his/her religion.íî
ìThese actions of the Egyptian government have demonstrated that they have little interest in adhering to documents or principles to which they have signed, in essence making liars of their own people,î Mr. Grieboski stated.
While it is not technically illegal for Muslims to convert to Christianity in Egypt, converts are often sought out and arrested on other charges in an attempt to force them to return to Islam. According to Egyptian law, it is illegal for Muslim converts to Christianity (or any Muslim) to change their names from a Muslim name or marry non-Muslims.
However, it is not illegal for Christians to convert to Islam in Egypt, and changes from a Christian name to a Muslim name are performed legally in such cases within 24 hours.
According to Islamic shari'a law, anyone who leaves Islam should be executed, his marriage should be annulled and his children and property confiscated. Saudi Arabia, Iran and Sudan require the death penalty for leaving Islam.
"Whilst Egypt has no law against apostasy from Islam, in practice, converts are actively punished by the police in this 90-percent Muslim country and often face imprisonment, beatings and torture on various pretexts in order to try to force them to return to Islam," according to the Barnabas Fund.
Egyptian Supreme Court Justice Said Al-Ashmawi explained that while conversion away from Islam is not specifically illegal, it is understood not to be acceptable.
"It is understood that converting from another faith to Islam is approved, while converting from Islam to another religion is prevented," Al-Ashmawi was quoted as saying in a 1996 report by Middle East Concern.
"It is not mentioned that it is not allowed, but it is understood; there are technical problems that make it impossible. I hold that Egyptian law is actually Islamic law," Al-Ashmawi said.